The Israeli government opened the door today to resumed Middle East peace negotiations, agreeing to talk about two of four new Egyptian proposals, but reaffirming Israel's adamant refusal to set a target date for self-government for West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin announced that Israel will reopen talks on Egypt's demand for the right to review Sinai security arrangements after a peace treaty is signed, and a further demand for an exchange of letters agreeing to early negotiations for West Bank-Gaza Strip autonomy.
In the same breath, however, Begin announced that the Cabinet had "reconfirmed its hard-line communique of Dec. 15 "in all its parts." In that communique, Israel bluntly rejected the possibility of renewed talks on the same two issues, and on two other Egyptian demands.
The Cabinet also said today it rejects completely" a State Department interpretation on another key Egyptian demand -- to dilute a clause of the compromise draft treaty assuring that the peace agreement would supersede mutual defense pacts between Egypt and other Arab states.
The Cabinet said Israel will "approach the United States with the view to assuring the sole and equivocable meaning of this article," apparently meaning that the government will seek to inject into the State Department's legal opinion Israeli arguments for the overriding precedence of the treaty over other pacts.
In spite of those caveats, the Cabinet decision virtually ensured that the stalled peace negotiations will be reopened soon, and it seemed to signal some new flexibility in Israel's position on the Sinai review and Egypt's demand for early West Bank talks.
Begin said the U.S.-government would be informed of Israel's willingness to talk immediately. Egypt also is expected to inform the United States this week that it is prepared to resume talking.
Asked when he thought a conference could start, Begin told reporters after the Cabinet session, "Well, I suppose during the next week."
Government sources have been hinting broadly to reporters all week that Israel would be willing to show some flexibility in the exchange of letters committing both sides to early negotiations on West Bank and Caza Strip autonomy, without agreeing to a target date.
In the Israeli view, any mention of a target date for the start of Palestinian autonomy would put normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt -- including an exchange of ambassadors and Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal -- at the mercy of future decisions by the Palestinians. The fear here is that Israel, having yielded the Sinai Peninsula, could end up with nothing to show for it because of the actions of a third party over which it has no control.
As a result, Begin appears ready to accept a commitment to begin Palestinian talks soon - a month after the treaty signing has been mentioned -- but he will not accept a specific date for a successful conclusion for fear of providing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat with an easy escape from his part of the separate treaty.
In another development today, supporters of the ultranationallist Gush Emunim (Faith Bloc) moved out of their settlement at Camp Kadum and tried to establish an illegal settlement just north of the Arab town of Nablus on the West Bank.
The Israeli Army placed several roadblocks in the vicinity to prevent Gush Emunim vehicles from approaching the area, which the settlers say was promised to them by the government. CAPTION: Picture 1, Prime Minister Begin reads statement on talks after weekly Cabinet meeting. UPI; Picture 2, Some of the 2,000 Vietnamese refugees aboard the freighter Tung unfuri a banner proclaiming "Happy New Year." The ship was allowed to anchor a mile offshore of Manila under they are resettled.United Press International